1st Person

Air Marshal Mark Binskin, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force speaks with APDR Editor, Kym Bergmann

14th Feb 2011

Strapline: 1st Person

Air Marshal Mark Binskin, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force speaks with APDR Editor, Kym Bergmann

Q: What has been the impact the recent floods on Defence operations?

A: The response has involved a lot of effort on the part of Defence. At least the floods started relatively slowly, with problems first emerging in central and northern Queensland and the State Government already had a good grip on the problem. It was after the Toowoomba floods and the tragedy of the Lockyear valley that the tempo for Defence went up rapidly.

Q: What was the response of the RAAF?

A: We have had a number of people on the ground supporting the cleanup immediately after the water subsided. The majority of them have been in the Ipswich area – because we are very much part of the local community because of the proximity of the Amberley air base. We actually had 70 of our own Air Force families affected by the floods, with damage ranging from total inundation of houses - where people lost everything – down to those who thankfully escaped with relatively minor damage. Amberley itself was affected on the day of the floods when for a short time about a quarter of the runway was under water – but everyone up there did a great job and operations did not miss a beat.

We have had number of King Airs conducting support operations around the state, moving people and lighter loads. There were also three C-130s used to transport equipment, people and food to Mackay in particular and from there they moved by truck into Rockhampton. The C-17 Globemasters flew a number of missions to Townsville delivering basic essentials to the flood victims, as well as transporting disaster relief personnel – such as additional police – from interstate.

Q: Did this have an impact on your scheduled operations?

A: No, not at all. We were able to swing into the effort very quickly and throughout the period still maintained all of our regular resupply flights to the Middle East Area of Operations. There were no problems at all with concurrent operations.

Q: Looking back on 2010, what were the highlights?

A: Last year was a very busy and very important year for the RAAF. There were several major achievements and, in particular order, I’ll start with the Heron UAV detachment in Afghanistan. Based in Kandahar, the Heron is now operating to its full potential and is making an important contribution to coalition operations.

Another major development was the introduction of the Super Hornets, which are now operational – quite an achievement in a short period of time for a hi-tech state-of-the-art fighter. We needed to have a squadron of Super Hornets reach initial operational capability (IOC) so that we could withdraw the F-111s as planned, and we met that goal on the 8th of December. (KYM TO TASHA, BPS)

While there is still more work to be done to reach full operational capability (FOC) scheduled for late 2012, the fact is that the Super Hornets are deployable today.
Then of course there are the Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft. The aircraft have been introduced into service and we are expecting to achieve IOC by the end of this year. I flew on a Wedgetail recently and I have to say it is an extremely impressive aeroplane. The co-ordination of the crew and the systems was excellent and we are coming along in leaps and bounds from interim acceptance.

We also bought Vigilaire into service at North ROC and by the middle of this year should be up and running at East ROC.

Q: Regarding JSF, do you have any concerns about the programme?

A: The changes announced by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates are actually positive for Australia. Making a decision to shift the Marine Corps Short Takeoff, Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant two years down the timeline means that all the focus will now be on the A model, which is the one we are buying. So I’m confident about meeting delivery timetables and especially about the level of capability they will deliver when in service.

Q: What are the plans for Australia’s initial batch of 14 JSFs?

A: We are fine tuning some of the details because it’s quite complex but the first two aircraft will remain in the US for training for several years but by 2018 we will have all 14 here to form the first operational squadron on Australian soil.

To manage everything involved in that activity we are going to restructure the New Air Combat Capability (NACC) team at the end of this year so that it becomes more an air combat transition role – something similar to what we have running with the Super Hornets. We need to morph the NACC so that it has more of a focus on acquisition tasks as well as the detail of introducing the JSF into service.

Q: How do you go about selecting the first pilots?

A: It’s always a combination of choosing the people with the required skill sets and the timing. This is a relatively slow ramp-up, so there first two pilots will be working mainly in an Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) role and things will quicken up after that. The timing of all of this needs to be precise because we are still operating our Hornets and so we don’t want the JSFs faster than scheduled. How we are structured means that we look for a squadron-for-squadron replacement, not one aircraft at a time. Roughly speaking this will take a year per squadron.

Q: How is the Multi-Role Tanker Transport coming along.

A: As you know, there was a mishap recently with the boom during a refueling exercise over the Atlantic Ocean. Something happened when a Portugese F-16 engaged with the boom causing the nozzle to break off. This led to a series of events now being investigated that resulted in the loss of part of the boom.

Airbus Military – the manufacturer of the aircraft – have the lead in the investigation, though with the close involvement of RAAF personnel. What the consequences will be at this stage are unclear, because for Australia the more immediate need is for the hose-and-drogue part of the system, which remains unaffected by the mishap. The Project Office is working with Airbus on the way ahead, including whether we could bring the aircraft into service in an interim capacity. The attitude of Airbus has been very helpful and they notified us immediately when they became aware of the problem.

Q: You must be looking forward to receiving the MRTTs.

A: Yes. Of all the capabilities we touched on – Wedgetail, Super Hornets, Vigilaire and in the longer term the JSF – the thing that is going to fundamentally change the way we do business are the tankers. What you need in air power these days is to give Governments options for being able to deploy over extremely long ranges and to be able to sustain those operations. Whether we are talking about humanitarian missions or the delivery of kinetic effects, what is needed is range – and the MRTT will give us that global capability.

In addition, with the ability to carry 280 troops means that the transport role these aircraft can perform is also extremely useful.



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